When I was approached by my editor to interview Zain Alam of Humeysha I was like sure, why not? I hadn’t heard of the band and was hungry for some different music, something I could sink my teeth into. What I would quickly find after listening to Humeysha was that there was a lot to sink into and to revisit as I tried to answer what I had just listened to.
Humeysha’s sounds, with its reverberating, trance-y guitar riffs and mantra-esque singing caught me off guard in the best of ways. It was both psychedelic and calming all at once. And though my first impression of it was to liken it a musical avatar of cannabis, I found this distinction too simplistic.
Humeysha projects an aesthetic that is monastic and sensual all at once, complex yet simple. And that’s what I loved about the music—it’s ability to have all these dichotomies harmonize so hummingly.
Interviewing Alam didn’t quite bring me closer to a conclusive answer as to what I was listening to in any way that puts his music in one musical genre. And that suits him just fine.
Alam’s answers to my question were so, dare I sound too gushy, prolific that I kept the format of this interview uncut and with minimum editing.
SS: You describe your self-titled debut to be a “wayfarer’s meditative travels through heritage and homeland.” How is it meditative? What are some of the spiritual, emotional, and physicals travels you’ve experienced that lend themselves to your music?
ZA: “Meditative” is actually one of the most common descriptions friends and family shared after first listening to Humeysha. Though the word doesn’t say anything specific about the sounds on the album, I think it gives a good sense of what kind of sounds are used and how they’re brought together. Meditation bowls, tanpura drones, big washy guitar chords, and Bollywood percussion. Together these sounds all made sense in my head, despite being from very different contexts. My attempts to find that unity through sound says something about my inward journeys just as much as does those outward.
The album is a record of how I processed my life on the move for a year in the subcontinent. I spoke Hindi-Urdu and looked like everyone else but still felt alone, an American-born outsider in my grandparents’ strange land. Part of working through that experience was buying a bare bones guitar. The instrument was not only a source of comfort, but also a tool for me to process all of India’s sounds—new and familiar—along with the nostalgia I felt for my childhood. As part of my work for the 1947 Partition Archive, I recorded hundreds of hours of found sounds from markets and homes. I traveled in person across north India collecting stories while also digging deep into myself to ask: what does it mean to find a song in the mess of musical memories I’ve amassed over the years across east and west?”
SS: Who have been your greatest musical mentors from both the East and West?
ZA:“I owe a lot to the greats of American hip-hop— particularly from the South, where I grew up—who’ve defined the practice of sampling and looping. Bradford Cox and his band Deerhunter are also hometown heroes who I’ve always looked up to for doing guitar music right and on its own terms, somehow balancing elements that are dreamy and beautiful with others strange and grotesque.
Anyone who’s grown up with Bollywood will also hear Humeysha’s indebtedness to AR Rahman—the man’s practically soundtracked our childhoods. Other Bollywood classics like Madan Mohan and RD Burman are also staples who I find myself coming back to time and time again.
Another musical mentor of mine from the East that may surprise some is the Japanese video game composer Nobuo Uematsu. I was a big fan of Final Fantasy and he, too, in a way sound-tracked my childhood, considering how many hours I spent playing those games. The fact that the music worked so well despite looping endlessly ensured that you’d never forget it, as if the melodies themselves weren’t catchy enough.”
SS: How did you form your band? Did you know your band mates from before or did you vet artists that shared your vision for a band?
ZA: “The band was formed after the release of the album in order to play it live. I had already been working with Dylan Bostick on re-recording and mixing the album for almost a year after I returned to NYC. I had played in bands before with Dylan and Adrien Defontaine in college, and they both had played with John Snyder as well. As far as a vision for this band, I think it’s always been important for there to be an existing sense of camaraderie and ability to lock in with one another in a very felt, genuine way. I’ve been blessed to play the songs with best friends who’ve made music with me before, always have interesting ideas on how to translate certain ideas to a live context, and care to know about little details like qawwali inspirations or the pronunciation of lyrics in Hindi/Urdu.”
SS: How would you describe your relationship with music?
ZA: “Somehow it didn’t dawn on me how poetic it is that my mother’s name is Tarana until recently after my Dad was wondering out loud to her why both my brothers and I are all musicians when neither of them were. Her name is an Urdu word referring to a specific kind of composition centered around a short main melody! So in a way they can’t be too surprised we ended up playing music instead of becoming doctors.
Ever since I can remember, I’ve had an instinctual attachment to music. I was humming my own tunes and harmonies to Bollywood songs long before I learned how to play an instrument.
Remembering songs after hearing them once has always felt natural, and especially when I was younger I would tear up whenever I heard a particularly touching melody. And most of my friends will tell you it’s no surprise to catch me caught up in hour-long conversations about my favorite records.
I’d also describe the connection as instinctual—especially now—because I think my subconscious likes to do a lot of composing. I hate keeping my phone right next to me when I sleep, but I keep it within arms reach because sometimes I’ll wake up from a dream with a melody in mind. A lot of the newer Humeysha songs began this way. It’s important that I record those ideas just as they strike before the conscious mind takes over to meddle and criticize.”
SS: Your live shows are said to feature “projections manipulated on-the-fly and coordinated outfits for the band members for a full audiovisual experience.” Explain what this truly means in terms of your vision, collaborating with others, and synchronizing this experience.
ZA: “I’ve drawn on quite a few ideas in Islamic/South Asian art for Humeysha and had a lot of talented friends to help make it a reality. There’s filmmakers and make-up artists on the video shoots, painters and musicians who helped give the album its concrete form, writers who have wanted to discuss the project with new audiences. Trying to deliver a fuller experience live is a natural extension of challenging ourselves to go beyond just playing songs while having a fun time pushing forward together.
Specifically, regarding the projections, Ethan Young develops and projects them live in sync with our music. I trust him as one of my best friends and kindred creative spirits. Since working with him on the Burma Between You and Me video, I’ve always enjoyed bouncing ideas and sending him references from Urdu literature and Islamic culture. The outfits—my Lucknowi chikan kurta and all in white—are present because the projections fall on us and because I love how refined the kurta looks.”
You can find Humeysha’s music on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon, and Bandcamp.
Soni Satpathy-Singh is a culture writer and recipe developer who resides in Manhattan. She is either always cooking or eating be it for work or simply because she loves to! To see more of Sketchy Desi’s work, visit facebook.com/sketchydesi/ or stay tuned for upcoming posts on Brown Girl Magazine.
“How could the British bring the Indians without the cows?”That’s one of the jokes you’re very likely to hear at comedian Priya Guyadeen’s show. In fact, the 53-year-old just wrapped up a set of shows with her troupe: Cougar Comedy Collective. The Guyanese-born comic spearheads the group of mostly women of “a certain age,” as she puts it.
She says the group was formed in 2021 but she started dishing out jokes back in 2020 during the pandemic, over Zoom. She was always labeled the “funny one” in her family and decided to take her jokes to a virtual open mic, hosted by her friend, where she says failure was less daunting.
Cut to 2023, and the comic was able to take her show on the road. Guyadeen and her fellow performers recently hit the East coast for a set of shows called “Cougars on the Loose!” The shows even featured two male comics.
Guyadeen’s comedy routines touch on her Indo Guyanese background, highlighting stereotypes and a clash of cultures. In one of her jokes, she tells her audience that her Guyanese mom is bad with names when she introduces her white boyfriend, Randy, and he gets called Ramesh.
Out in the Bay Area — where she spends her days now — she tries to connect the sparsely Caribbean population to her jokes.
That includes talking about the 1978 Jonestown Massacre which had ties to San Francisco and ended in Guyana. She uses this as a reference point — trying to connect her audience to her background with historical context. She says this does come with its challenges, though.
The single mom also practices clean jokes. Once she finishes up her daily routine with her eight-year-old son and day job as a project manager for a biotechnology company, she tries to find time to write her material.
It’s a balancing act. I’m like the day job-Priya for a few hours or for a chunk of time. And then I’ve got to put on my comedian hat and do that for a period of time because with comedy, I’m not just performing. I’m also producing, managing the shows, booking talent, seeking venues.
Though it’s not easy, she says she’s learning through it all — the business side of comedy and discipline.
Guyadeen, who’s lived in Brazil and Canada, says her young son really contributes to her comedy. A lot of her material focuses on jokes for parents, and single parents like herself, because she feels:
[We live] in a society that doesn’t really create a support system for single parents.
Her nonprofit, Cougar Comedy Collective, was born out of all the great reception she received. She noticed a “niche market” of women in their 50s who loved to get dressed up and come out to the shows to hear jokes that related to their own lives that aren’t typically touched on. These were jokes about menopause, aging and being an empty nester. Guyadeen says her nonprofit,
…bring[s] talent together in our age group to celebrate this time of life; celebrate this particular juncture in a person’s life.
As Guyadeen continues her comedic journey, she says she hopes she’ll be a role model for other Caribbean women to follow their dreams despite their age. She also hopes to see more Caribbean people carving out their space in the entertainment industry.
Featured Image of Priya Guyadeen taken by Elisa Cicinelli Photography
We’re rounding up all the latest South Asian entertainment news so you don’t have to. With the rise of representation in media, South Asians are making strides and we’re all for celebrating the highs. Brown Girl Magazine’sentertainment editors Aysha and Arun have compiled a list of the all that grabbed headlines in the first half of the year, so you can still be in the loop without having to stop and search elsewhere. From the latest movie buzz to must-watch live and animated shows, we are covering it all.
Here’s a round-up of some of this year’s highlights:
Star Wars Joins the Brown Side, It Must
Yoda approves this one. After wowing us with Ms. Marvel and breaking glass ceilings while doing so, Academy Award-winning and International Emmy Award-winning director and journalist, the one and only badass Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy has once again proved that she’s a force to reckon with! Chinoy is set to be not only the first Pakistani and South Asian, but the first person of color, and the first woman to direct a “Star Wars” film.
“Spider-Man, Spider-Man…” if you don’t know what song we’re referring to, you better pause and run to YouTube and check it out.
The multiverse, with virtually an infinite number of heroes, couldn’t exist without South Asian representation. Insert, Pavitr Prabhakar hailing from Earth-50101. Like Peter Parker, Prabhakar grew up under the care of his aunt and uncle. Despite living in poverty, Prabhakar’s intelligence earned him a scholarship that — with additional support from his family — allowed him to attend an illustrious school in Mumbai. Similar to Parker’s story right? He even has an MJ in his life: Meera Jain, instead of Mary Jane.
He first debuted in the Spider-Man: India (2004) comic book series, but became a household name after being featured in “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.” Voiced by Karan Soni in English and Shubman Gill in Hindi, the character is set to return in the film’s 2024 sequel.
South Asians are finally making their way into the Marvel universe and this is only the beginning.
Season four of the much-awaited “Never Have I Ever” came to an end filled with tears and hope, this past summer. Devi proved she can have it all (spoiler alert ahead) — a boy and her dream Ivy League college Princeton. Being a desi kid growing up, many of us also dreamt of being accepted into a school our parents could rave about to their family friends, so to see Devi’s applications rejected was refreshing and much-needed. Much thanks to Mindy Kaling and her co-producer Lang Fisher for keeping it real and showing growth with each of the characters. Seeing both the widows on the show, Nalini and Pati, make room for love and dating gave us more of an incentive to indulge in the show.
Women in Showbiz Everywhere (WISE) Hosted its First Ever ‘Hues of Heritage’ Event Celebrating South Asians in Film & Television in mid-August with actor Bill Moseley and Executive Director of CAPE Michelle Sugihara. The Hi-Tea Affair brought together South Asian creatives, writers, journalists, and other industry members, fostering inspiring and supportive conversations. The event also marked the launch of the esteemed RATNA fellowship, which Vineesha Arora-Sarin, founder & executive director of WISE, terms as a “movement dedicated to identifying and supporting emerging South Asian female writers worldwide who aspire to make their mark in the global entertainment industry.
And what better time to launch it than now when we’re going through a major cultural and a much-needed revolution in Hollywood to give writers and creators fair play as we speak.” The fellowship will select five writers from South Asia (including India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and others) and the diaspora to join a one-year program and collaborate on a project alongside talented mentors. Read more about the fellowship here.
It was not something we grew up imagining as South Asians in America; children of immigrants who are often sidelined. But it happened! History was made as a considerable line-up of South Asian artists including Ali Sethi and Jai Wolf took center stage at Coachella. The highlight though, was Diljit Dosanjh’s power-packed performance that sent fans into a frenzy, enough to keep the security on their toes! It was the first time an Indian Punjabi singer performed at the event and we’d say it was about time.
Iconic song “Naatu Naatu” from the blockbuster movie “RRR” not only made history as the first ever song selected from an Indian film to be nominated for an Oscar but by also winning it, beating the likes of Rihanna and Lady Gaga. While the Oscar performance was disappointing — featuring predominantly ‘white’ ensemble of dancers, instead of the thousands of Indians who could’ve done a far better job and made more sense — this win is big for the South Asian community as a whole!
Pakistan filled with Joy as “Joyland” Made it on Academy Awards Shortlist
Pakistani film “Joyland” is the country’s first-ever film to be shortlisted for the Academy Awards. While it had a long run, it did not receive a nomination for the Oscars as expected. It was among 15 films that made the cut for the best international feature film. The critically-acclaimed film breaks stigmas by showcasing a stereotypical patriarchal family that craves for the birth of a baby boy— but with twists. Without any spoilers, this film is a must-watch for dismantling and challenging a host of patriarchal and discriminatory norms that continue to plague South Asian culture.
From “Indian Matchmaking” to Indian Idol-ing: Sima Taparia
Love or hate her, everyone has an opinion about internet sensation Sima Taparia. And with the end of season three, there’s still more to talk about Taparia’s new wedding or shadi song: “Shadi ki Tayaree Hai.”
The song follows Taparia attending a wedding while singing, dancing, and encouraging you to have a wedding of your own. And she’s not alone; her husband Anup Taparia is also singing and dancing. People are calling the song as entertaining as her show! Do with that what you must, but check out the song available to watch on YouTube.
An adaption of Yann Martel’s best-selling novel, Lolita Chakrabarti’s “Life of Pi” musical is not only the first Broadway play with a majority South Asian cast but the first to win three Tony awards.
Dubbed as Broadway’s most diverse show right, “Life of Pi” won Best Lighting Design of a Play, Best Scenic Design of a Play and Best Sound Design of a Play. Not to mention the musical is the Broadway debut of three Olivier Award-winning performers. With more than 20 puppeteers, the show takes you through Pi’s journey of survival.
After almost 15 years in development, “Monsoon Wedding” has made storms in New York’s theater scene. An off-Broadway production that ran all through the summer, “Monsoon Wedding” is an adaption of the iconic film that released in 2001.
We laughed, we cried, we sang as Mira Nair had us “literally dipped in the vat of stunning classical Indian singing.”
A show fit for anyone, as each character depicts varying shades of a personality, “Monsoon Wedding” breaks stereotypes, confronts stigmas, and reminds us of the importance of family.
“What’s Love Got to Do with It?” Brings Home Four Awards
Shekhar Kapur and Jemima Khan’s romantic comedy “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” won four awards at the United Kingdom’s National Film Awards, including best screenplay, best British film, best director and best supporting actor.
Khan, the screenwriter and producer of the movie, won the award for Best Screenplay. Asim Chaudhry’s performance won the movie Best Supporting Actor and Kapur won the Best Director award and the Best British Film award.
In another historic win for India, “The Elephant Whisperers” became the first Indian documentary to win an Oscar. Winning Best Documentary Short Film at the 95th Academy Awards, the film touches upon the relationship between animals and their caretakers. It follows the story of an indigenous couple named Bomman and Bellie who care for an orphaned baby elephant.
The film was directed by Kartiki Gonsalves and produced by Guneet Monga. Sharing the news of the win on Instagram, Monga noted how two women brought home this historic award.
”Tonight is historic as this is the first-ever Oscar for an Indian production. India’s Glory with 2 women.”
Record Number of South Asians Invited to Join The Academy
The Academy of Motion Pictures and Arts announced their list of 398 new members invited to join them. Among the prestigious names are also Indian film celebrities Ram Charan, Mani Ratnam, Karan Johar, Siddharth Roy Kapur, Chandrabose and MM Keeravani. As members of The Academy, they will be eligible to vote for the 96th Academy Awards which will be held in March 2024.
Be on the lookout for our next roundup as the year comes to a close!
Few people can call themselves rocket scientists. Even fewer can say they are a rocket scientist-turned-actress, producer and Broadway star. Salma Qarnain is a Pakistani Muslim woman who can claim the title.
Artistry runs through Qarnain’s veins. Her grandfather was a filmmaker in Bombay and Karachi, before passing away at a young age. Her mother performed in plays throughout college. Now Qarnain is using artistry to build empathy, playing characters that represent her family’s story and promoting Black and Brown allyship through Black Man Films — the production company she co-founded with Roderick Lawrence.
Qarnain grew up in the Midwest but traveled back to Karachi often. Some of her earliest memories were in Karachi singing along to the Beatles and pretending to be Ringo Starr. When her family moved to the United States, typical of South Asian immigrant parental influence, her interest in math and science and immense love for Star Wars led her to pursue aerospace engineering, hence rocket science. Her mother’s passing forced her to rethink her goals and when she wanted to achieve them.
Today, she describes her purpose for creating art in profound terms.
I want people to be equal. I want people to understand we’re very much all together a speck of dust in the entire universe, and that there are so many more things we share than we don’t.
Starting entertainment work in the aftermath of 9/11 made it clear how she, a Pakistani Muslim woman, would be seen.
I remember [at] that time… Friends of mine told me, ‘Don’t let anybody know x, y, z about you, because they may have a bias against you. Something might happen.’
The beginning of her career was defined by how Western culture perceived Muslims and South Asians. Her first entertainment gig was as a casting assistant in Washington D.C. She noticed if South Asians were cast,
They were going to be playing something stereotypical to what a South Asian person is thought of… that could be the geeky, mainly male, math nerd, or a terrorist.
While the position provided an opportunity to learn about what it took to become an actress, Qarnain also leveraged her responsibilities to make a change — if a role didn’t absolutely require a white actress, she would gather diverse resumes for the casting director, slowly trying to shift the idea of what a person of color on television had to be.
With people of diverse experiences joining writer’s rooms and a “pipeline of young South Asian actors,” the industry has improved but isn’t close to equitable. She sees “Life of Pi” on Broadway and Black Man Films as ways to combat that.
Broadway’s adaptation of Yann Martel’s 2001 novel brings a multigenerational South Asian cast to the stage and has Qarnain playing two roles — Pi’s (gender-swapped) biology teacher, an analytical, guiding mentor, and the Muslim cleric Pi studies under. “Life of Pi” is one of Qarnain’s favorite novels for being a story about faith, storytelling and the power of both to provide hope. She took a callback for the role via Zoom in an Applebee’s parking lot.
I feel very invested in both of these characters. Just because they are absolute extensions of who I am as a person, and to have this be my Broadway debut — I couldn’t have asked for anything better.”
She got to play a Pakistani Muslim character once before in the off-Broadway play “Acquittal.” It was the first time she could represent an authentic story. In “Life of Pi,” Qarnain helped workshop the scenes with the cast and playwright Lolita Chakrabarti to make them more authentic.
She absolutely took our suggestions and comments and reactions, for myself, from another person in our cast – who’s also a Muslim – and then from castmates, [who are] Catholic and Hindu, to understand what would work and what would people respond to. That’s where the gift was, that [Chakrabarti] was very receptive to what we had to say.
Black Man Films and her partnership with Roderick Lawrence run parallel to her theatrical journey. The pair formed the production company during the pandemic through a short film that Lawrence created to explore Black men’s mental health. As an enthusiastic fan of Lawrence’s work and having wanted to begin producing for film and television, Qarnain joined the project immediately. The short film, “Silent Partner,” went to 21 film festivals and won Best Short at several.
It was never done for accolades. It was done because there was a purpose and message to the story around Black men’s mental health told through the lens of micro-aggressions in the workplace.
The second short film, “Speak Up, Brotha!” was released in late March and will be played at Oscar-qualifying film festivals, this summer.
For Qarnain, Black Man Films is a platform for change and Black and Brown allyship.
I want people to look at our films and understand where they are, who they are in this film; in “Silent Partner.” If they’re complicit in propagating systemic racism, and, if so, what are they gonna do about it? How can they start? How can they talk to their parents? How can they, you know, engage with other South Asians and put a stop to colorism and any racism that exists against the black community?
Telling stories that reflect the experiences of people of color gives creatives the power to build systems that can improve people’s lives.
There is a racial hierarchy that exists and if we want to break that, we have to be a part of building everything, not just for us, but for everybody who isn’t white.
She is confident that the stories she’s helping bring to life will do just that and change the world in the process. From “Life of Pi” to “Speak Up, Brotha!” the possibilities for encouraging justice and empathy are endless.